Paris, France 7th November 2019
Accelerated urbanisation – often poorly executed – the absence of effective public transport, and the increase in car usage by private individuals are having a negative impact on mobility in the form of congestion and pollution. The current technological revolution offers solutions that can be enhanced by public sector and private stakeholder collaboration.
The current situation of mobility in cities is inevitably leading to an impasse. Urbanisation will grow inexorably in the world, but this is provoking an increase in travel. The number of private cars is increasing steadily, particularly in emerging markets (Brazil, China, India etc.). Road transport remains the main means of moving goods and the accelerated growth in e-commerce is leading to the exponential multiplication of "last mile" journeys.
“Urban mobility has reached a kind of deadlock, from an environmental standpoint” says Xavier Corouge, Managing Director of Urban Mobility Branch at Europcar.
The costs of this situation are already visible. The development of mass urban public transport is not enough to handle demand. Traffic and congestion slow down journeys and contribute to both urban pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. This phenomenon is having a direct impact on the population's health (respiratory diseases, traffic accidents, collisions with pedestrians, stress etc.) and the bill keeps increasing. A study focusing on four countries (France, Germany, United Kingdom, United States), estimated that both the direct and indirect global cost of traffic congestion between 2013 and 2030 (1) to be USD4,400 billion.
A paradigm shift
However, new solutions are starting to emerge that may help us design a new world of urban mobility. The development of new technologies (artificial intelligence etc.), innovation in the automotive industry (electric vehicles, autonomous and connected vehicles, the use of hydrogen etc.), as well as the emergence of new forms of mobility (car sharing, car clubs, scooters, mopeds etc.) are breaking new ground. The de–carbonisation of the automotive industry is a growing reality as demonstrated by the huge investments made by major manufacturers to develop a range of electric or hybrid vehicles.
Another important element is the approach Millennials have towards cars by placing greater importance on use, rather than ‘ownership’. Mobility is designed as a service.
These changes are helping to transform and diversify the range of available modes of transport. The traditional duality of urban public transport/private cars is being replaced by a diverse and complementary range of solutions. The new world of mobility will be multi–modal, which raises the question of how this can be organised and regulated.
“More and more, the new mobility offering will have to find its place within the city and this will force the transport authorities to regulate those different modes” says Marc Granger, Chief Strategy Officer at Alstom.
The key question of governance
Mobility is a public asset like education or health. It is therefore up to local authorities to gain an overview of the issues within urban transport and to turn this into a strategy that integrates different methods of transport in an effective way, as well as taking into account the notion of sustainable development. The ability to implement this strategy is crucial, which raises further questions regarding its governance.
There is a growing awareness, in major cities of the importance of managing urban mobility where specific organisations are being set up. In a world of increasingly multi–modal mobility, cities are the only entities that have the necessary global overview.
This strategy must integrate the development of mass urban public transport (subway trains, tramways etc.) and new forms of mobility in a harmonious way. The public sector is well placed to further the deployment of new technologies in different ways.
Catalysts for action
The public sector is able to make the necessary investment focussing private–sector action and initiating a change in the population's behaviour. In Paris, significant investment to develop cycle paths has provoked a spectacular uptake in cycling, which has doubled over the last ten years (2). The public sector can help by supporting the distribution of data, which is the "raw material" required for applications that aid mobility.
“Almost all the visions of the future both generate and may create a desire in city officials for information in the form of data. A city can both be a smart city and a city that respects the people who live and move there, including their right to privacy” says Colin Tooze, Director of Public Affairs at Uber.
The role of incentives and subsidies may be crucial to ensuring that new forms of mobility become the norm (tax or parking–fee exemptions for electric vehicles etc.). It is essential that public strategy goes a step further by implementing restrictive measures such as banning certain categories of vehicle rather than relying on a voluntary change in driver behaviour.
The creation of "low–emission zones" in Madrid, and then Barcelona as of 1 January 2020 are clear examples of this strategy in action. It seems that the role of the urban authorities is fundamental in establishing mobility in the future. Urban mobility that is effective, sustainable and coherent will not exist without a strong desire from everyone to contribute.